Before Fabian Iezzi even embarked on his 20-year tattooing career, he was already more qualified than many of the artists in the tattoo industry today.
“Because I’d done art for so long and created graphics for skateboard companies and clothing companies, my friends told me that I should get into tattooing,” Iezzi says. “It wasn’t something that I was looking for, it just kind of fell into my lap.”
After all, as someone who pursued art on both an academic and professional level, Iezzi had the kind of artistic background that most tattooers will never know. After so many years of studying all types of art, it only took the lifelong artist about six months of learning to tattoo by trial and error on friends before he felt he was good enough to take his portfolio to a bonafide tattoo shop in 1996.
“The first shop that I went to, I showed them the tattoos that I had been doing and landed a job instantly,” Iezzi says. “I had no formal apprenticeship. I’m 100 percent self-taught. To the tattoo community, this isn’t the way to do it. But in ‘96, there was a strongarm on the tattoo community, and they didn’t want just anyone doing it. It was the last days before the internet explosion that made all of the information available, and nobody wanted to give me a chance.”
These days, the tattoo industry is more than a little bit easier to break into than it was back in the mid-’90s. Many artists and shops welcome apprentices now, and many others learn everything they need to know through the internet and social media. But as any veteran of tattooing will tell you, there are some things new tattoo artists will never know. As Iezzi sees it, making their own needles isn’t the only important thing younger tattooers often end up missing out on.
“With the digital age and information age of the internet, the tattoo community has become a lot smaller, and yet the information is so much more expansive,” Iezzi says. “Before, we had to either draw up our subject matter or go to bookstores and libraries to do our homework. We had to understand what we were doing, how we were doing it, and why it was done. Now, you can just punch up ‘Japanese dragon’ on Google image search, and it’s done — it’s mapped out for you. It’s a lot easier now, but at the same time there’s no reward if you don’t understand why you’re drawing it that way.”
Whether he’s seeking out a reference in a book or simply browsing the internet, Iezzi brings an artistic appreciation to every one of his tattoos. As someone who’s been creating artwork in various mediums for his entire life, the artist currently working out of Laguna Tattoo understands tattooing as an art form rather than simply putting ink into a client’s skin. While many tattooers who dabble in other mediums will tell you that tattooing is the most difficult type of art because of its permanence on the skin, Iezzi doesn’t see it that way.
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“The truth of the matter is that tattooing is actually easier for me,” Iezzi says. “I think skin is more forgiving than a canvas or paper for illustration or whatever medium you choose to use. For me, it came a lot easier because the shading blended so much easier than it did on the other mediums I used. It’s really dependent on the type of art you initially started with compared to the type of tattooing that you’re doing. My art was always graphic-based because I worked with the skateboard industry, so it translated really easily into tattooing.”
As for the finished products, Iezzi’s use of color and detail bring his tattoos to life in ways not often seen in the tattoo world. With much of his work falling in the creative space between realism and neotraditional — all mixed with a dash of his fine art skills — the established artist isn’t even sure what to call his own style of tattooing, but he realizes it’s definitely different than what most others are putting out.
“Everybody’s constantly asking me what I call my style of tattooing, but the truth of the matter is that I don’t know,” Iezzi says. “What my customers tell me is that they always get the general public saying ‘I normally don’t like tattoos, but your tattoo is absolutely beautiful.’ Maybe I’m just tattooing outside of the box or outside of the norm. If there are 99 tattoos that might look the same, the one that stands out is the one that I’m striving for.”
Laguna Tattoo, 656 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-497-3702, @fabiantattoo